- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2008

And then there was one.

Gov. Tim Kaine is the lone Virginia politician remaining on the rumored short list of potential running mates for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama. But while the Democrat, 50, has his share of supporters who would love to see the centrist Southern governor paired with the liberal Illinois senator, an anti-Kaine contingent says he lacks the accomplishments to share the national stage.

“I just think what’s going to trip him up is the state of Virginia right now has a lot of problems,” said Lowell Feld, a Virginia Democrat and blogger at www.raisingkaine.com. “And it’s not like this unmitigated record of success you could just point to. That’s the tricky part.”

Mr. Kaine became Virginia’s 70th governor in 2006 after serving four years as lieutenant governor. He became the sole Virginian in the Democratic vice presidential spotlight after former Gov. Mark Warner removed himself from the running last month and Sen. Jim Webb issued a statement Monday saying he also would bow out of contention.

Observers say Mr. Kaine’s chances of becoming the running mate hinge largely on the camaraderie between the politicians. The two got to know each other when Mr. Obama campaigned for Mr. Kaine in 2005 and have been close friends ever since.

Jerome Armstrong, a political consultant in Alexandria who worked on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, said the Obama-Kaine relationship reminds him of the Bill Clinton-Al Gore presidential ticket in 1992.

“It didn’t make total sense to a lot of people geography-wise, but when they got together as a ticket it was, ‘Oh yeah, they click,’ ” Mr. Armstrong said.

In February of last year, Mr. Kaine became the first governor outside of Illinois to endorse Mr. Obama. After locking up the nomination in June, the senator has been thanking early endorsers like Mr. Kaine for taking that risk so early in his campaign, and he likens the governor to family.

“Obviously, … somebody who took a bet on you when you were a long shot, there’s going to be a special place in your heart for them,” Mr. Obama told The Washington Times last month aboard his campaign plane.

He added there were “no favorites” in the veepstakes, but a few hours later at a rally in Bristow, Va., he was calling Mr. Kaine a friend for coming out so early with his support.

“When you’re in the political business, there are a lot of people who are your allies, there are a lot of people who you’ve got to do business with, but you don’t always have a lot of friends. The governor of the commonwealth of Virginia is my friend,” Mr. Obama said to raucous cheers.

At a Thursday town hall in Fairfax, Mr. Obama also lavished praise on Virginia first lady Anne Holton, calling her “a woman of extraordinary character and accomplishment” who has become a “great, great friend.” Mr. Kaine’s wife returned the favor when introducing him, saying she has “tremendous admiration for him and his family.”

Mr. Kaine has been praised for other qualities that could benefit Mr. Obama: A devout Catholic and former missionary in Honduras during the 1980s, the Spanish-fluent governor has made no secret about the role of his beliefs in his personal life, stating that he clearly sides with the Catholic Church against the death penalty and often mentioning his faith during his stump speeches.

With Virginia expected to play a crucial role in November’s presidential election, Mr. Kaine’s reputation as a campaigner who helped Democrats take the majority in the state senate last year also could help Mr. Obama earn an edge. The state has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.

Kaine spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said the governor is “flattered” to be mentioned as a vice presidential contender, but that “his focus right now is on governing Virginia.”

However, Mr. Kaine’s critics say he occupies the governor’s mansion largely because he rode a tide of good will that followed Mr. Warner’s gubernatorial tenure, and his record of accomplishment in office is less than stellar.

“He’s like the person that got the promotion because his boss left, and all of the sudden wants to run the whole operation,” said Ben Tribbett, a Democratic consultant and Virginia politics blogger. “It’s absurd.”

For example, Mr. Kaine had said he hoped to see universal pre-kindergarten education offered in the state - a plan that would have cost roughly $300 million a year. He was later forced to back off the campaign promise in favor of a drastically scaled-back version amid partisan opposition and a tight budget.

The governor also has been unsuccessful in legislative attempts to close the gun-show loophole on firearm purchases and prohibit smoking in Virginia restaurants, but his problems finding a solution to the state’s transportation problems are more notable.

In February, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled a funding package passed by the General Assembly and approved by Mr. Kaine unconstitutional, and two special sessions called by the governor to address critical transportation problems since 2006 have ended in failure.

The most recent assembly of lawmakers — called in part to consider a transportation package proposed by Mr. Kaine — adjourned early Thursday morning with no solution in sight and brought accusations of fault between Mr. Kaine and Republican leaders.

“Obama’s running to go beyond red and blue states,” Mr. Feld said. “You’re talking Republicans and Democrats in the state right now are at each other’s throats.”

Delegate William R. Janis, Glen Allen Republican, also accused the governor of calling the June 23 special session to keep his name in the news as Mr. Obama vetted potential vice presidential candidates. He said Mr. Kaine spent more time campaigning for Mr. Obama than lining up support for his transportation plan.

“Tim Kaine has been devoting his time, attention and treasure to running for vice president, not to solving Virginia’s problems,” Mr. Janis said.

Some also have worried that if Mr. Obama chose Mr. Kaine, it would shift the governorship to a Republican, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.

But Dan Drummond, a Fairfax City Council member active in the Democratic Party, opined that Mr. Bolling as governor for one year before the November 2009 governor’s race could give the Democrats a boost by starting infighting among the GOP.

Mr. Bolling had considered running for governor before deciding earlier this year to run for re-election and back Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell’s gubernatorial bid.

“As much as I’d like to be governor of Virginia some day, I wouldn’t wish that on the people of the country,” Mr. Bolling told The Times in June. “All these things are just speculative at this point.”

Virginia also has a decades-long political tradition that some think is more than coincidental: Its off-year state elections for years have rewarded the candidate from the party that did not win the White House.

Mr. Drummond said Virginians would forgive Mr. Kaine for leaving office a year early and said the state is known as the “mother of presidents” since eight chief executives were born in Virginia. The last one was Woodrow Wilson in 1913.

After nearly a century, Mr. Drummond said it’s time for another.

“Tim Kaine for vice president would create such momentum and groundswell in Virginia,” he said. “People are Virginians first and partisans second.”

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